As a child I was taught to pray, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food. By his hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.”
That prayer is deceptively simple. It is easy to say, yet it says so much.
God Is Great
In saying, “God is great,” we aren’t praising God like Tony the Tiger praises Frosted Flakes. Rather, to speak of God’s greatness is to talk about God’s authority and power. His greatness is his right to rule and his power over all things. As the prophet Daniel says, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
Paul the apostle says the same: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom. 11:33-36).
God’s greatness is opposed directly by those who say that God is weak or unable to help us. Even some Christians talk as if God were a needy old man who can’t do much without our help. Yet we forget that God made the universe and needs nothing from us. “He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). He gives us life and breath and all things. We need God; he doesn’t need us. (But he does want us—Rev. 4:11.) God is great!
God Is Good
The greatness of God without the goodness of God isn’t Christianity—it is fatalism. Lots of religions have taught that their god is supremely powerful. What makes our faith unique is the message that the supremely powerful God acts on our behalf and for our good. He loves us and cares about us. He even sent his Son to die for us so that we might live in him. That is what we mean when we say, “God is good.”
Jesus also reminds us, “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). None of us are good like God is. He isn’t “good” because he conforms to some standard; he himself is the standard. His character—his love, grace, mercy, tenderness, patience, longsuffering, forbearing, kindness—all these things flow from the heart of God because they are who he is the very core of his being. No one has to tell God to “act nice” or “be good” because that’s who he is. God is good, and everything else we call “good” is only truly good if it lines up with who God is.
God’s goodness matters because it reminds us that God hates sin not simply because he dislikes the challenge to his greatness, but because God is good and he is for our good, too. God knows that sin makes a mess of things, to put it very lightly. Sin wrecks our lives. It breaks the peace between us and God, and between us and each other. God is good and therefore against sin and evil.
Let Us Thank Him
It’s no accident that the next line in the children’s prayer is a response of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the main fruits of faith, for all those who trust that God is great and God is good can’t help but thank him. That is why Paul writes, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).
And being thankful isn’t just some duty to be done. It is a sign that we understand who we are in the presence of God. We are sinful beggars in the presence of a holy king. We don’t deserve anything, yet he gives us everything (Jas. 1:17). This can’t help but make us thankful! In fact, it may be a sign that we don’t truly understand the gospel if we aren’t thankful people. After all, the attitude of entitlement is the opposite disposition of a heart that has freely received the costly grace of God.
For Our Food
Finally, the children’s prayer connects God’s greatness and goodness to food, because we need food need to survive. God made us this way so that we would might remember how frail, fragile, and fleeting we are. Our existence is not self-sustaining, and the necessity of eating food is a picture of our dependence on God. We need him to go on living (Heb. 1:3), whether we realize it or not.
Food also reminds us of how the kindness of God is extended through the work of our neighbors. Your “daily bread” is rung up at a register you didn’t tend. It is purchased in a store with shelves you didn’t stock. It is delivered by a truck you didn’t drive. It is harvested from fields you didn’t cultivate. It is grown by rains you did not send… and so on. Hence the prayer rightly says, “By his hands we all are fed”—it’s true from start to finish.
God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food… and for everything (Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18). For we also know that God’s greatness and goodness are seen clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which will soon destroy the sin that has already been defeated. Every tear will be dried, the broken things will be mended, and death swill be swallowed up forever. God is great. God is good. Let us thank him.